November 3, 2015 / 12:22 AM / 2 years ago

Dentons reaches deal to merge with Australia, Singapore law firms

(Reuters) - International law firm Dentons said on Monday it has agreed on terms for mergers with 500-lawyer Australian firm Gadens and 200-lawyer Singaporean firm Rodyk & Davidson, whose partnerships will vote on the deals in the coming weeks.

If the mergers are approved, Dentons Chief Executive Officer Elliott Portnoy said integration will likely take place early next year.

The talks follow 3,000-lawyer Dentons’ agreement earlier in the year to combine with China’s Dacheng Law Offices, whose roughly 4,000 lawyers will help create the world’s largest firm when that deal is completed. This year Dentons also merged with Atlanta-based McKenna Long & Aldridge, which had around 400 lawyers.

The firm also hailed its moves in Asia as part of a “pivot” toward the region, echoing language used by the White House about U.S. foreign policy strategy.

The present Dentons was formed through a series of mergers involving U.S., British, French and Canadian firms. The firm has mainly used a Swiss verein structure for its combinations, which allows it to maintain legally and financially separate entities sharing a common brand.

Gadens and Rodyk will also join Dentons as separate verein firms.

Joseph Andrew, Dentons’ global chairman, said in an interview that his understanding was that structure would facilitate the merger in Singapore, where the government restricts foreign law firms from practicing local law. “We do not believe there will be a regulatory challenge,” Andrew said. “Rodyk will remain a Singapore firm.”

Foreign firms are even more tightly restricted practicing Chinese law, and Dentons has also credited its verein model as clearing the path for its deal with Dacheng. Andrew said that deal was still expected to close before the end of 2015.

Singapore has been an attractive location for international law firm expansion as the financial hub for Southeast Asia. Australia had seen a flurry of law firm merger activity a few years ago, at the height of the country’s mining boom. But activity has slowed in recent years as commodity prices have slumped.

Andrew said Dentons’ expansion strategy was not tied to the economic cycles. “It’s about building this global platform,” he said.

Reporting by Anthony Lin in New York; Editing by Jonathan Oatis and Lisa Shumaker

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